No. 7 Fort Lewis pulls away from Zias in second half

Freedom New Mexico: Kevin Wilson Zias guard Tori Northcutt defends Fort Lewis guard Katie Mackey in the second half of Saturday’s game at Greyhound Arena. The seventh-ranked Skyhawks dealt the Zias a 70-53 defeat.

By Kevin Wilson: Freedom New Mexico

PORTALES — Fort Lewis College didn’t want to start 2010 cold at West Texas A&M. The Skyhawks made sure it didn’t start with a loss at Eastern New Mexico University, either.

Post Allison Rosel and point guard Abby Jackson each scored 16 points, and the seventh-ranked Skyhawks defeated the Zias 70-53 Saturday at Greyhound Arena for their 10th win in 11 games.

Fort Lewis plays today at 16th-ranked West Texas A&M.

The Skyhawks (13-1) led by as many as 19 and beat the Zias (5-8) in nearly every phase of Saturday’s contest. But it was on the defensive end where Fort Lewis shined, forcing the Zias into 33 percent shooting and 24 turnovers.

“There’s a reason they’re seventh (in NCAA Division II),” Zias coach Linden Weese said.

Fifth-year Fort Lewis coach Mark Kellogg said with the Skyhawks idle for nearly two weeks due to the holidays, Saturday was the type of game where they wanted to “hang their hat on defense” while they shook off the rust offensively.

Mission accomplished, as the Zias managed seven uncontested shots all afternoon, according to his count.

“It’s what we teach and preach, making teams work for every point they get,” Kellogg said. “They had a few shots they’d probably like to have back, but almost everything was contested.”

The Skyhawks scored 11 of their first 17 points off turnovers, including a layup by Katie Mihalco midway into the first half for a 17-15 lead. From there, the Skyhawks beat the Zias inside (30-10 advantage in the paint), off turnovers (26-10) and off the offensive glass (23-13).

And when those didn’t work, Jackson did, hitting three of her four 3-pointers in the first half and a running bank shot as the first-half buzzer sounded for a 38-28 lead.

“She’s a little sparkplug,” Kellogg said of Jackson, a 5-foot-4 junior guard, “and she really makes things happen.”

The Zias, meanwhile, could never get in a flow offensively, as the Skyhawks steadily pushed the lead. Every Skyhawk win this season has been by double figures.

Weese didn’t have a problem with his team’s effort, but he would have liked better execution at times.

“To have a chance,” Weese said, “we had to make good choices, and we had to shoot it good. First half, we did. Second half, we didn’t.”

Junior Cat Clay had 11 points and seven rebounds to lead the Zias. Til-Lois Fifer added nine points, but had to get most of it on a 5-of-7 effort at the free-throw line.

“We can’t have Til-Lois go 2-for-12 (from the field) and get a win,” Weese said. “We needed to get more inside baskets.”